BOSTON – For the first three months of the 2014-15 Celtics season, Phil Pressey was regular fixture in Brad Stevens' bench rotation. The undrafted point guard continued to struggle with his shot, but provided Boston's second unit with a spark most nights thanks to his exceptional passing abilities.
Pressey's role changed though upon the arrival of Isaiah Thomas in Boston via trade back on February 22. The Celtics backcourt was already crowded as is, with Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, and James Young already eating up minutes. Once a high-powered scorer like Thomas arrived, someone's playing time was going to have to take a serious hit. Understandably, it was Pressey, who was the odd man out.
Brad Stevens knew Pressey would be facing a minutes reduction and made it a priority to address it right as Thomas arrived.
"I had a talk with Phil about three weeks ago," Stevens acknowledged after Friday night's game. "And I just said, right after Isaiah came it's pretty obvious he's not going to play as much when Isaiah's healthy. But I told him this: he's a really valued member of our team.
"Like, in our organization. He works the right way. If he doesn't play he's the loudest guy on the bench, and if he does play he's an energizer. He's not going to play perfect, but nobody is, and if you can sustain that and not get down and be confident, there's always a role for him. And that's a great compliment."
Pressey watched from the sidelines for those three weeks, playing just 12 minutes of mop-up duty against the Cavaliers in early March, before being called into action last week. Thomas went down with a back injury, Turner was still starting at small forward, so, a reserve point guard was needed. Pressey jumped back into the rotation and has played some of his best basketball of his career during Boston's four-game winning streak.
On Friday night, the 24-year-old posted his fourth double-double of his NBA tenure with 10 points and 10 assists against the Magic, a performance that earned him plenty of praise from his head coach.
"The guy who spearheaded the whole night was Phil Pressey," Stevens declared after the game. "Evan [Turner] carried us with his scoring. But Phil Pressey's defense was huge, and Phil Pressey getting out on the break was huge. And then his ability to get to the foul line, break people down on the dribble and get to the rim a couple of times when we had nothing going was huge."
The undrafted 5-foot-8 guard followed up that effort with seven points and four assists in just 17 minutes of action during a crucial win against the Pacers on Saturday night. After failing to see meaningful playing time in 10 straight games, Pressey's teammates have been in awe in how seamless a transition Pressey has made upon returning to the rotation.
"He's been there, ready, game in and game out," Kelly Olynyk said. "He hasn't really gotten the opportunity. But he hasn't bowed his head at all, or been upset, or anything like that. He's been the ultimate team guy. When his number was called, he delivered."
With Thomas slated to return to the court later this week, Pressey will likely be headed back to the bench. With the Celtics surging in the Eastern Conference standings, that won't cause the team player to keep his head down.
"I don't mind not playing as long as we're winning," Pressey said. "I felt like from day one. As long as we're winning, I'm happy."
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